The NHS workforce is growing, but not rapidly enough to keep up with demand, meaning urgent action is required to ensure the NHS has enough staff in place to deliver high-quality care for patients, as well as developing the service for the future.
Solving this problem will require consistent and concerted action at a local and a national level to address wide ranging issues such as workforce planning, pay, training and staff wellbeing. It will also require consideration of immigration policy, including arrangements with EU countries, as the NHS looks to ethically recruit staff from overseas to fill vacancies in the short term.
This challenge is recognised by the government and national bodies. The Conservative party manifesto pledged 50,000 more nurses to be working in the NHS by 2024/25, a new maintenance grant for nursing students, increased funding for professional training and a fast-track visa scheme for foreign doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. In June 2019 NHS England and NHS Improvement published an Interim NHS People Plan, which began to set out their plans for the future of the NHS workforce. In July 2020, NHS England and NHS Improvement published the NHS People Promise and a 2020/21 People Plan, setting out how to address workforce pressures through greater recruitment and a renewed focus on a compassionate and inclusive culture. In the absence of government spending decisions being confirmed, the plan still lacks the long-term investment and commitment needed. Further details are expected to be set out later on in the year.